It is a familiar complaint from those of a certain age: today’s pop music is louder and all the songs sound the same. It turns out they are right.
Research shows that modern recordings are louder than those of the 1950s and 60s. They are also blander, with less variety in terms of chords and melodies.
The finding, which will come as no surprise to all those over the age of 35 or so, comes from Spanish researchers who carried out a computer analysis of the key features of almost half a million pop, rock and hip hop songs from 1955 to 2010.
This revealed today’s tracks to be louder. The researchers say this is because sound engineers and producers are cranking up the volume at the recording stage.
As a result, if two tracks are turned up to the same volume at home, the more recent will sound noisier.
This is thought to not simply due to better recording equipment but an attempt to make music that catches the attention and is suitable for playing in discos.
The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, also found evidence that songs are more similar than in the past.
The chords used and the changes between chords are simpler, leading to the production of music that is easy on the ear but contains little variety.
Researcher Martin Haro, of Barcelona’s Pompeu Fabra University, said: ‘I think this is related to the role of music.
‘Nowadays, it is more about relaxing, you don’t want to think about what the music is telling you. In the 1950s and 60s, music was more artistic and for getting messages, things about politics, across.
‘When the synthesiser was introduced, you had lots of bands like Pink Floyd that were experimenting with different types of sound and chords, this was an experimental playground for them.
‘Now it’s about dancing and relaxing, rhythm and energy, with groups and bands not so interested in experimenting with sounds and chords.’ The study also found that instruments fall in and out of fashion, depending on the sound of the time.
Wannabe musicians looking for a hit should turn to the past for inspiration, said the researcher Joan Serra, of the Spanish National Research Institute.
Professor Adrian North, a music psychologist, said: ‘There isn't much research out there on how music should evolve, but what little there is argues that composers and performers are in a continuing battle for the attention of listeners, and apparently tailor their music to achieve this.
‘One way in which they can achieve this is by, for example, making their music progressively louder over time, as seen in the research here.
‘However, music can only get so loud before it becomes simply unlistenable, and so the same theory argues that this is where musical styles begin to evolve: rather than making their music novel by simply making it louder, performers and composers have to find new types of music, and so this is how new musical styles come about.’